Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

The subtle gay gangster films of the early 1930s – Little Caesar 1931, The Public Enemy 1931 and Scarface 1932

“Criminals should not be made heroes… The flaunting of weapons by gangsters will not be allowed…”

“… the fashion for romanticizing gangsters” must be denounced.

The three films also evenhandedly parcel out social pathology and sexual aberration: homosexuality in Little Caesar. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy from the novel by W.R. Burnett Little Caesar was first out of the gate and an immediate sensation. A diminutive bandit whose single-minded ambition compensates less for his stature than his repressed homosexual desire, Caesar Enrico Bandello is compact, swarthy and tightly wound; his golden boy pal Joe played by the scion of Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is tall, patrician and easygoing.

When Joe finds a female dancer and show business success, the jilted Caesar unhinged by a jealousy that dare not speak its name even to himself, makes his first mistakes in judgement. The male triangle is completed by Caesar’s worshipful lapdog Otera (George E. Stone) who gazes up at Rico with a rapturous desire that, unlike Rico, he barely bothers to sublimate. Doubly deviant Rico dies for his social and sexual sins, asking in tight close-up and choked up tones, “mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”The famous last words inspired an incisive remark from Robert Warshow on gangster psychology:” Even to himself he is a creature of the imagination” from FILMIC – From Sissies to Secrecy: The Evolution of the Hays Code Queer by Mikayla Mislak

“This is what I get for likin’ a guy too much,” Rico ‘Caesar’ tells himself after he realizes he’s lost Joe. Joe, who he has referred to as “soft” and a “sissy.” The very pretty Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) has decided to give up the racket, to be a professional night club dancer. Robinson wisecracks, “Dancin’ just ain’t my idea of a man’s game.”

Joe is romantically involved with Olga (Glenda Farrell). ‘Caesar’ is not only jealous of Joe’s relationship with Olga, he appears to have no use for women at all.

At the end there is a telling close up, a well of tears in his eyes, a subtle quiver in his face. Rico cannot shoot Joe, even though he needs to keep him from squealing. The image of Robinson coming head on with his feelings reveals his struggle with the repressed love for his dancing pal. The scene is very effective when the camera closes in on Robinson, capturing his dewy, wide eyed stare. Behind the scenes what helped the intensity of the look of longing turned out to be a serendipitous moment when Robinson had to fire a pistol while looking into the camera, and was unable to keep his eyes open, each time he pulled the trigger. Eventually they had Robinson’s eyes held open with cellophane tape. The effect worked perfectly.

Another interesting point in Little Caesar that hints at his latent homosexuality is a scene that highlights his clumsy fussiness. Rico is trying on a tuxedo and gazing at himself in the mirror. Posturing gleefully as he swishes at his own reflection. In this scene, Rico also becomes caught in his effete sidekick Otero’s (George E. Stone) gaze, who joyfully watches his boss flit for the mirror.

In The Public Enemy (1931) there is a noteworthy scene, when Tom (James Cagney) goes to his tailor to get fitted for a suit. It’s a hilariously fidgety few moments for Cagney while the flamboyant tailor fawns over his arm muscles. When the movie was re-released, the sequence wound up on the cutting room floor.

According to Mislak In Howard Hawk’s Scarface (1932) it could be seen as having a gay subtext, as Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte (Paul Muni) shows a repressed homosexual desire for his best friend Guino Rinaldo played by George Raft. Hawk’s film doesn’t work on a blatant exhibition of violence, instead Scarface’s subtlety draws on the subliminal impression of his sexual impulses.

Through my readings, it has been noted that there is a coded gayness inferred from the character of Camonte in Scarface. Rather than the repressed sexual desire for his close friend Guino, I catch more a wind of an incestuous desire for his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). Camonte hovers over her with an iron will, not allowing her to have any man touch her. She even alludes to his untoward attentions at one point telling him that he loves her more than just a brother. Camonte (Muni) does focus obsessively over his hair and his wardrobe, which Poppi (Kathy Morely) tells him is ‘sweet’. But there are a few references to Guino being queer. He wears a carnation which is a code for being a gay man in film. Camonte says he’d like a carnation too, takes it out of Guino’s lapel and tells him “Better no one sees you with this.” He also makes a comment about one of the North side gang members not to be taken seriously because he owns a flower shop! Guino doesn’t show any interest in women until nearly close to the end of the picture, when he submits to Camonte’s sister, Cesca.

“The placement of homosexuality or the real possibility of it in an antisocial context is quite natural. Homosexuality when it is invisible is antisocial. The only condition under which homosexuality has ever been socially acceptable has been on the occasion of its voluntary invisibility, when homosexuality were willing to pass for heterosexuals. Obvious homosexual behavior is reflected onscreen as in real life, only in the ‘twilight world’ of misfit conduct. During the brief period of explicit reference to homosexuals in pre-Code films of the early 1930s. Gay characters were psychologically ghettoized by their routine relegations to a fantasy world or an underworld life….

….in addition to strengthening the Code in 1934, Will Hays reacted to criticism by inserting morals clauses in the contracts of performers and compiling a “doom book’ of 117 names of those deemed “unsafe” because of their personal lives. Homosexuality was denied as assiduously off screen as it was on, a literally unspeakable part of the culture. By 1940 even harmless sex-roles farces such as Hal Roach’s Turnabout were considered perilous in some quarters. The film, about a married couple (Carol Landis and John Hubbard) who switch roles by wishing on an Oriental statue, was described by the Catholic Legion of Decency as dealing with ‘subject matter which may provide references dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships and the dignity of man.’ ” –Vito Russo

HITCHCOCK SUBVERTS SUSPENSE!

Hitchcock sensed the ambiguous sexuality in Mrs. Danvers (nicknamed Danny) who embodies the forbidding identity of the coded lesbian in 1940s films. As she strides down the halls of Manderley, there is an element of the angry older woman trope, who is vacant of male companionship by choice, with an added streak of dissatisfied longing. She embodies the sterile matron, showing characteristics of an ‘old maid’ attributed to a repressed lesbian.” Rebecca serves as Fontaine’s idealized mother and that Hitchcock’s films present images of ambiguous sexuality that threaten to destabilize the gender identity of the protagonist.” -(Tania Modleski)

Gay Coding in Hitchcock films

Article by Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier

“In typical Hitchcock-ian fashion, the “Master of Suspense” often employed in his films subtle references to gay culture, defying conservative attitudes of the late ’50s.”-Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier | February 7, 2017- Editor’s note: The following article, like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, includes references to sex and violence.

Did Martin Landau play a homosexual in North by Northwest? Did Alfred Hitchcock really show gay sex on-screen in Rope, albeit in an unusual way? Was the whole plot of Rebecca driven by the twisted jealousy of an evil lesbian? And, most surprisingly, did Hitchcock depict a gay marriage way back in 1938’s The Lady Vanishes?”

Alfred Hitchcock was a complicated man, who put a singular stamp on all his films, infusing them with his droll and macabre sense of humor and imbued his work from the point of view of satyr. Hitchcock projects his dark and twisted view of the world as at the end of his films there is sort of a perverted release that he leaves us to contemplate. It also appears that he was playful with the use of his gay coded characters in many of his films.

Nothing Hitchcock did was unintentional, thereby reinforcing proof that there is a gay subtext to many characters in various films. He was very measured in every detail even before the camera captured the scene. But within this method of implying a queer pathology and positing queer elements to the narrative. He was ingenious in the way he veiled his ciphers within the cloak of deniability, in order to slip it by the censors in his cheeky manor.

Though Hitchcock would often imbue his pictures with coded gay characters, among scholars it is still speculative as to which side his view fell on. Given that everything Hitchcock constructed was intentional, it’s easy to see why he would be viewed as homophobic, due to his use of stereotypes that eventually led to queerness possibly being as the source of the crimes. But you have to consider that during the time he reigned, it’s a tribute to Hitchcock that he even embraced the complex issue of homosexuality. It shows me that there was a conscious level of understanding.

In his life, Hitchcock surrounded himself with gay culture be it in England or Hollywood, and he worked with many gay writers and actors. Ivor Novello who starred in two of Hitchcock’s silent pictures was good friends with he and Alma. Hitchcock was also friends with Rope stars John Dall and bisexual Farley Granger who played coded gay characters in the film. Granger also had the lead in Strangers on a Train, co-starring Rober Walker who plays another of Hitchcock’s coded gay characters, Bruno. Anthony Perkins who struggled with his sexuality in real life, plays the ambiguous, stammering, Norman Bates in Psycho. According to Jay Poole, Robert Bloch was interested in ‘abnormal psychology’ and was familiar with Freudian theories on sexual identity. His novel was more suggestive of the taboos, in terms of the incestuous relationship with Norman’s mother and his confused sexual identity.

The assessment of ‘camp’ and queerness can be seen as negative. More contemporary audiences might perceive Psycho as more campy than lurid or scary. Norman’s appearance in the fruit cellar might register with audiences as if he’s a big ugly ridiculous drag queen with a knife. The rest of the film is darkly humorous. (Doty cites Danny Peary)

In contrasting these male characters, one representative of sexually suspect psychosis, the other of gendered and sexual normalcy, Hitchcock blurs the lines between them, creating effects that will inform future depictions of American masculinity… While Lila Crane has been read positively as a lesbian character, and also as Carol Clover’s prototype for the ‘final girl” I demonstrate here that Lila is a more ambiguous figure, tied to social repression and the law. […] (Norman’s voyeurism and Lila’s examination of Norman’s room as pornographic) Infusing these pornographic motifs with addition levels of intensity and dread was the increasingly public threat of homosexuality within the Cold War context in which Hitchcock’s related themes gained a new, ominous visibility. What emerges in Psycho is a tripartite monster-voyeurism-homosexuality-pornography.” — (Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier)

WARNING SPOILERS:

Saboteur (1942) producer/writer Joan Harrison wrote the screenplay and collaborated with Hitchcock on many projects for both film and television. In the period of the 1940s to the 1950s, movies often conflated homosexuality with unsavory characters like Nazis, communists, and terrorists.

Saboteur stars Robert Cummings as plane mechanic Barry Kane who is framed for the terrorist bombing of a military instillation’s aircraft hanger where they manufacture planes. After he sees his friend die in the explosion, police assume that it was Kane who filled the fire extinguisher with gasoline. Kane goes on the run, to try and find the man he suspects is the saboteur, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd) who is the real murderer who committed the heinous crime.

Kane stumbles onto a secret group of ‘the firm’, 5th columnists who are plotting to sabotage key targets, military planes, ships and dams. Kane is dropped into the middle of a cabal of dangerous Americans who have infiltrated positions of power in order to carry out their nefarious plan to disrupt the democratic system and cause chaos. Socialite dowager Mrs Henrietta Sutton (Alma Kruger) is a New York philanthropist who provides cover for the ‘firm’ run by Otto Kruger as the coldly, sinister Tobin. Kane pretends to go along with the group, and in one scene in a taxi with Alan Baxter who plays Mr. Freeman, there is a queer exchange between the two. Freeman tells Kane about his two little children, one of them is a boy, whom he wishes was a girl. He’s letting his son’s hair grow long, and hesitates cutting it. Then he shares his reminiscence about his boyhood when he had glorious long blonde curls. Kane tells him to cut his son’s hair and “save yourself some grief.”

Purely by Hitchcockian fate, Kane is thrown together with Pat (Priscilla Lane) who comes to his aid and at one point tries to distract Fry at the top of the Statue of Liberty. The beautiful Pat, flirts with Fry in order to stall him until the police get there, but he isn’t the slightest bit interested in her at all. In fact he seems annoyed by her presence. He’s a slim effete figure, a swishy loner with a serpent like grin. Theodore Price, in his book ‘Hitchcock and Homosexuality’ (1992), has no doubt Fry was gay. (Ken Mogg 2008)

Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and the sinister Leonard (Martin Landau) who is also a gay Hitchcockian figure.

We first hear a remark spoken by socialite Mrs Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry (Kane) is taken to the saboteurs’ New York lair, as Barry enters the upstairs room. Mrs Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, whom she reprimands: ‘I have to hover over you like an old hen.’

This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterize the somewhat de-natured estate-manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) – nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted – and will be uses again in The Paradine Case to characterize the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan).

Frank Crawley is ‘as fussy as an old mother hen’; Latour, we’re told, had been ‘like an old mother hen’ to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine.- Ken Mogg (2008)

In North by Northwest (1959) Martin Landau’s character Leonard, displays an undercurrent of homosexuality, that is subtly implied. He’s a devoted bodyguard whose gaze of his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger is a cue of his being queer. Nearing the climax of North by Northwest, the telling scene set in a mid-century modern house reveals Leonard’s love for Vandamm. Hitchcock even sets up the motive for Leonard shooting the object of his affection, jealousy and rejection. A notable line toward the end of the movie, Leonard remarks, “Call it my woman’s intuition” affirming the effete stereotype of a feminine gay man. Vandamm is genuinely flattered (contrary to homosexual panic) by Leonard’s feelings, which hints at his motivation for killing the thing he loves. Vandamm (Mason) tells him in that coldly sober tone of his, “I think you’re jealous. I mean it, and I’m very touched. Very.” As Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier point out, Hitchcock direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Laundau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”

From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entrance way to the story with a close shot on the main character’s shoes walking to catch the train. Bruno wears elaborate wing tips with high heels and Guy wears a more toned down fashionable pair of shoes, which are in opposition to each other and illustrate the contrast between the two main characters.

Robert Walker’s Bruno, is a menacing, creepy guy with flashy ties, who positions himself after a chance meeting on a commuter train, to assert his influence over famous tennis player, Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno begins to flatter Guy, and insinuate himself by sharing his knowledge of Guy’s personal life. He is very proud of his tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accoutrement dappled with lobsters. Like his silken smoking robe and another tie with the name Bruno embroidered on it. Bruno also spouts a lot of ‘ideas’ he has in that ever prompted mind of his, when talking about Guy’s upcoming divorce and bigamy scandal, “I’ve got a wonderful theory about that.”

Bruno insists on Guy having lunch with him, “sent to my compartment… You see you’ll have to lunch with me.” It is obvious, though Hitchcock is very subtle about broadcasting the cues, that Bruno is wooing Guy. Bruno is very effeminate in his demeanor, you could say that he has a ‘flaming’ air about him, always dropping hints about his sexuality. “My father hates me”, insinuating that he is not the kind of man he expects of him. “I’ve got a theory that you should do everything before you die.” He tells Guy amorously, “I like you, I’d do anything for you.”

Bruno Anthony’s plan is for both men to exchange each other’s murders. There are several scenes that scream Hitchcock’s gay coding. Initially, when the two men meet each other on the train, Bruno is flirtatious, dressed in ‘flamboyant clothes’, which to gay audiences, is seemingly clear to be a gay pick up. Bruno’s not only attracted to the handsome Guy, but he is in fact stalking him as an ‘object’ to fulfill his needs and be his ‘partner’ in his deranged homoerotic plot.

His mother, Mrs. Anthony (the wonderful character actor Marion Lorne) does Bruno’s nails and dotes over her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.

The homosexuality is not explicitly stated, but there is too strong an import for critics and audiences in the know, to ignore. And, considering Hitchcock’s fascination with homosexual subtexts, it’s not a stretch to read into various scenes this way.

There is also the insinuation that Bruno has some serious mother issues, which is one of Hitchcock’s point of reference for his gay coding, such as his use of it with Norman Bates in his film Psycho. Bruno amuses himself by antagonizing his mother (Marion Lorne) who is completely in the dark about the twisted pathology of her homicidal son.

Bruno has set-up a visit from Guy who finds himself talking to the sociopath, who’s been waiting for Guy, while lying in bed in his silky pajamas. Is this actually arranged as a bedroom seduction?

Another brief sequence takes place at the end which centers around a carousel, a possible symbol of fluid sexuality, and sexual foreplay. The scene shows Bruno and Guy wrestling with each other, the movements could be read as Bruno really achieving what he wanted, to have sex with Guy. Hitchcock even cut different versions of the movie for Britain and the U.S., toning down the implied homosexuality in the American version — proof positive that he was fully aware of the gay implications in his movies. –(Badman and Hosier)

Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton’s Rope’s End is perhaps one of the more obvious coded gay films with homosexual subtexts in his canon. Arthur Laurents, who eventually came out of the closet and wrote the screenplay, said during a commentary “What was curious to me was that Rope was obviously about homosexuals. The word was never mentioned. Not by Hitch, not by anyone at Warners. It was referred to as ‘it’. They were going to do a picture about ‘it’, and the actors were ‘it’.” The original British stage play was loosely based on the sensational true crime committed by Chicago students Leopold and Loeb in 1924, who killed a fellow student, just to see if they could get away with a motiveless crime. The script was penned by Arthur Laurents in collaboration with Hume Cronyn and Ben Hecht.

Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) are entitled, affluent snobs, who are self-aggrandizing psychopaths with a Nietzschean superiority. Hitchcock arranges a taut stage play, around a case of Folie à deux. Brandon and Philip are implied coded lovers, who used the crime of murder to stimulate each other as if it were a sex act. The intellectual discourse they have in the beginning of the picture is overshadowed by the sexual banter that precedes what ultimately will become the act of committing a murder. Rope from the beginning of the picture inaugurates a very feverish sexual undercurrent.

In real life, John Dall was gay but died in 1971 without talking openly about his homosexuality. Farley Granger was bisexual when making the movie and then was in a lifelong gay relationship starting in 1963. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of the sexual orientations of both actors and was reportedly pleased with what is now called the on-screen “chemistry” between the two.

He coded Brandon and Philip as gay by their “sex scene.” It occurs at the very beginning of the movie, which is also the murder scene. Hitchcock is strongly equating murder with sex. The murder-sex occurs behind curtained windows. The death scream corresponds to the orgasm. Now visible, the murderers Brandon and Philip quickly put the body in a cabinet and go into a postcoital exhaustion. Philip doesn’t even want the light turned on. In an inspired touch, Hitchcock has Brandon light a cigarette, a standard Hollywood indicator for “we just had sex.” – (Badman and Hosier)

The unorthodox murderers throw a dinner party with the victim stuffed inside an antique trunk. The film was initially banned in Chicago and other cities, because of its implied homosexual relationship between the two killers. In 1959, the story was revised as Compulsion directed by Richard Fleischer scripted by Richard Murphy and based on the novel by Meyer Levin. Compulsion remains closer to the actual true life crime, and the implicit queer undertones are brought more to the surface, with less of Hitchcock’s cheeky innuendo.

Hitchcock employs many homoerotic symbology and allusions, as the couple reenact the murder, with the director conflating violence and sex. For instance, Brandon gets a bottle of champagne still invigorated by the murder, while Philip the weaker of the murderous pair, is nervous. Brandon fondles the bottle of champagne as the two stand close together very intimately. He grasps the champagne bottle as phallus and flirts with the top of the bottle, yet not releasing the cork. All this is stages as foreplay. Philip finally takes the bottle from Brandon and liberates the cork. They then toast to their victim. Film Critic Robin Wood asserts, in The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia, that these films could be made as more positive or sensitive to homosexuality rather than “traffic in homophobia” and that it perpetuates the notion that homosexuality leads to violence.

Psycho (1960)

Psycho works as a warped adult fairytale about getting lost and paying for one’s transgressions. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a Phoenix secretary who embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer’s client, and goes on the run. Marion is also shown to be a fallen woman, a sexual deviant herself with no morals, not only is she a thief but she is also having an affair with a married man Sam Loomis, (John Gavin). Driving in torrential rain, she pulls into the Bates Motel, an eerie, remote motel off the beaten path. The motel is run by a ‘queer’ sort of young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives up in the brooding house on the hill, under the dominant authority of his cruel and elusive mother. As Poole puts it, Norman “remains locked in a disturbed world, and, as the film progresses, becomes murderously mad.”

Norman Bates: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Norman is not a masculine figure, he is a mama’s boy who does his mother’s bidding. He is continually identified with his mother and, according to Freud and his psychological tunnel vision, would probably have evolved into a homosexual because of his Oedipal desires. Hitchcock perverts Freud’s narrow theory, by making sure the narrative shows Norman to be attracted to women, not men. It is when Norman’s arousal of the female body, that he dresses in frumpy dresses to represent his mother, who then takes over and annihilates the object of Norman’s desire. Many viewers assume that Norman is a repressed homosexual because he dressed in women’s clothing when manifesting his mother’s personality. Cross-dressing was stereotypically associated with homosexuality, however, Hitchcock’s film tries to make it clear that Norman is attracted to women from the very beginning with the seductive Marion. The concept of fluid sexuality was not understood in 1960, so conflating cross-dressing with homosexuality was a commonly misleading view.
Another interesting point that Jay Poole (Queering Hitchcock’s Classic) brings out is how the décor of the house is itself, queer. Referring to what he cites Foucault’s theory of ‘We Other Victorians’ which essentially invokes ‘the image of the imperial prude.’ Therefor the Bates house itself with it’s provincial Victorian style from a queer perspective represents the constraints of Victorian sexual expectations, which is — we do not speak of sex, and any relations are to remain between a heterosexual married couple in the privacy of their own bedroom. Norman is surrounded by this oppressive atmosphere, tries to fight his impulses, and his carnal desires. He does this by dwelling in his mother’s house, hoping that she will control the voyeuristic, dirty lustful desire he is having about Marion.

Norman Bates: “People never really run away from anything. The rain didn’t last long, did it? You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Marion Crane: “Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.”

Norman Bates: “I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore.”

Psycho, is the first of Hitchcock’s films to break tradition from his usual cultured mystery/suspense tropes. He decided to present this narrative using a pallet of B&W to set up a different tonality. Without the use of his vivid colors that he often used with cinematographer Robert Burks. Psycho deals with a more graphic, monochromatic, psycho-sexual sickness. A sickness that erupts in unprecedented perversity and violence for the director. Hitchcock also kills off his heroine in the first 20 minutes of the film. Psycho, will forever be known for ‘the shower scene.’

It also brings to the screen one of THE most hauntingly intense scenes that will remain in the collective consciousness, for what it lacks in vivid bloodshed, it possesses an uncomfortable voyeuristic gaze that brings us into Norman’s mind with the twists and turns, it assaults us, because of its deeper brutality, a more queasy feeling of psychic angst and inverts our gaze, as Marion stares back at us with her lifeless eyes.

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

In 1950s into 1960 was a time when Americans were seeking out the American ideal, and cultural conformity. It was also a time when many audiences did not explore alternative sexualities and would have conflated homosexuality with a deviant and dangerous personality. Poole suggests “Hitchcock queers the image of sexual purity but reinforces naturalized heterosexuality as the film progresses… Hitchcock utilizes the Freudian explanation of homosexual development in his explanation of Norman’s development as a psychopathic killer despite Norman’s apparent heterosexual orientation.”

Hitchcock believed he made the perfect choice in casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the homicidal misfit who put on a dress and wig to embody his cruel mother. Norman became a serial killer with a fixation on his castrating mother, because she dominated his life and turned him into a monster. Perkin’s himself soft-spoken, androgynous, even perhaps a slightly effete actor. Alfred Hitchcock envisioned another gay character whose inherent corrupted humanity stems from their conflict of being queer. By queer it can refer to the process of shattering normalcy, and the vision from the perspective of a heternormative lens. Psycho takes the audience into a place of dis-ease, where seemingly ordinary people are capable of monstrous acts. If Hitchcock’s film is subverting the value of 1950s America, and the transgressive content of Psycho breaks from societal norms, then it can be read as a ‘queer’ film.

[voiceover in police custody, as Norman is thinking]” It’s sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man… as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t move a finger, and I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do… suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”

As ‘Judith Butler’ Gender scholar, and ‘Hall’ speak of gender as performance, Hitchcock was clear in the way he developed Stephano and Bloch’s central characters in Psycho. In the final scene the murderer is revealed and his inner monologues keep hidden, the source of a disturbed, untroubled ‘victim’ of faulty psychological development.’ The opening montage sets the scene for the dark thing that takes place inside ordinary towns and inside the minds of ordinary people. (source: Poole)

Psycho was a vehicle that queered what the public had come to expect from Hitchcock films, and,much like its real-life inspiration (Ed Gein), it queered the notion that America was a place where ‘normal,’ was defined as a quiet, safe, small town life, free from the darkness that lurds in modest roadside motels… With Psycho, Hitchcock abetted by Stefano’s script, would shock audiences with sexual innuendo, apparent nudity coupled with a sadistic stabbing scene. Perhaps most shocking of all, he would leave audiences wondering what might lie below the surface of family, friends neighbors and themselves.” (Jay Poole)

Rebecca (1940), was not one of Hitchcock’s favorite films at all. Adapted from the Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the sick soul here is a menacing lesbian. The formidable Mrs. Danver’s ( played by the equally formidable Judith Anderson) is the head Matron of Manderley, living in the shadows of the former Mrs. de Winter. She is a love sick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside it’s ominous hallways. ‘Danny’ resents the new Mrs. de Winter and in one revelatory scene taunts her (Joan Fontaine) trying to drive her to suicide through her cruel torments. She parades Rebecca’s lingerie with a lustful smirk on her diabolical face, running her hands under the sheer, delicate fabric, as if she were fondling Rebecca herself.

Mrs. Danvers’ jealousy of Maxime de Winters’ new bride is driven by obsession, a lesbian coded manifestation, one of jealousy and sexual desire. For Joan Fontaine’s character Danvers reenacts through story telling, all the attentions she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillow cases. Though Rebecca is only seen as the painting of an alluring woman her ghost haunts Manderley and the new Mrs. de Winter.

In Hollywood movies of the 1940s, coded lesbian characters were far less common than coded gay men. Portrayals of lesbians might define them as dangerous and threatening, as is the case with Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers implies that she had been married. This allowed Hitchcock’s deniability against Judith Anderson’s lesbianism But Mrs. Danver’s eventual demise is brought about by her inability to accept Rebecca’s death or allow anyone to replace her love. And so her desire consumes her literally, in fire.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

When I first saw Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naugthon Wayne) in The Lady Vanishes my radar went off like a firehouse siren during the scene where they are both sitting up together in a small bed, one wearing the pajama tops and the other wearing the bottoms, (giving the appearance of both being naked in bed. It was such a marvelous coded moment and I knew they were a loving married gay couple. I found it so refreshing to see the British comedy duo playing a cheeky proper English couple who are cricket fanatics trying to get back to London while the Hitchcockian espionage is happening under their noses.

I enjoyed their farcical vignette about a pair of golfers, the one comedic entry in an otherwise moody collection of ghost stories- Dead of Night (1945) which like The Lady Vanishes, also stars Michael Redgrave.

Hitchcock excelled at getting fine performances from his supporting cast members. They usually are finely honed characterizations portrayed by perfectly cast actors, fascinating and funny, imbued with his dry British humor. Charters and Caldicott are wonderful examples. Played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, two fine stage actors who reprised these characters in subsequent movies and BBC radio programs, Charters and Caldicott follow a long tradition of comedy duos of older men in British Music Hall, vaudeville and stage performances. Most audiences of the time, especially British audiences, would have interpreted their relationship simply as one between eccentric, middle-aged bachelors. (Badman and Hosier)

Though there are so many elements of the duo that is ambiguous, Hitchcock imbues Charters and Caldicott with an affection and closeness that reads like a positive coded gay pairing. The two aren’t played as stereotypically flamboyant or campy. Later in the movie, Charters and Caldicott are heroic in facing down danger, during an onslaught of gunfire by fascist spies.

Charters and Caldicott are stranded at the only hotel in a tiny alpine village. The desk clerk informs them that they must share the maid’s room. When they meet the voluptuous Germanic blonde, they glance at each other with an expression that appears to be saying we’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter’s cracks “It’s a pity they couldn’t have given us one each” which could be interpreted as each having their own woman, to have a bit of a romp with. But Charters clarifies himself by saying he meant two rooms. One for the maid and one for them. A mainstream audience could read their conduct as two heterosexual British gentlemen, but if you read between the lines, it is suggested that they have no interest in women. In another scene when the maid enters their shared room without knocking, both men act startled by the intrusion. Caldicott moves in a way that conjures up the role of protective mate. Once she leaves, Caldicott locks the door.

A master of queering the screen, Hitchcock plays with sexuality using his skillful methods of innuendo and artful suggestiveness — In an already masterful way of blurring the lines of reality and adeptly flirting with transgression, Hitchcock’s milieus are perfect playgrounds for coded gay characters.

Continue reading “Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era, before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety that called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and post master general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and the Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” and “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all it’s risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its strangle hold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place since 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied it’s frame of mind and it’s puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sells. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with it’s violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) starring Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and a creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), social dilemma’s (drug abuse, poverty and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. The result, movies became more lewd, ruthless and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was it’s MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ who were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatures in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters, and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in it’s Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screen play pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit to the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered as perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly there were some productive strategies of circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man hunting, they sure seem to be mostly interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says, if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned was in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough as nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame or a risque night club owner. Perhaps shes an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no nonsense persona, be it her tough as nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often that not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in it’s scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency were getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. Of the various subject matter that was restricted on screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex-perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The films stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar  may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency , the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what were called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932 and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put it’s seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group who would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the ground work for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters, if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code had consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit representation of, or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanism within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before they reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid 1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, any illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s name. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secret, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career he challenged the restrictions of the Code, and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amended its ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexual’s were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were become more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of film goers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA ratings system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

DIrk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration, but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and the The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris of the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper, and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. They three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The risking Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald to flee to the America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cell mate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets to rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet as he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stage hand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak it’s name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on it’s face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted to film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggling with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn

Coded characters in film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily a positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

It’s that dastardly wonderful time of year when  Speakeasy* Shadows and Satin & Silver Screenings host The Great Villain Blogathon 2017! featuring an endless array of diabolically cunning, insensate evil, down right nefarious and at times psychotic adversaries that Cinema has to offer!

Now in the past several years I’ve taken a long look at Gloria Holden & Gloria Swanson: When the Spider Woman Looks: Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels -Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936).

Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: for 2015’s The Great Villain Blogathon! I focused on the extraordinarily passionate Vincent Price in Dragonwyck 1946 and the ruthlessly sublime Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall 1937—in a twisted nail biter by director Walter Graumen who puts the lovely Olivia de Havilland in peril at the hands of a sociopathic animal James CaanLady in a Cage (1964) for the spectacular Blogathonian lady’s hosting the 2014’s —The Great Villain Blogathon and once again last year for 2016’s event, I featured True Crime Folie à deux: with my take on Truman Capote’s true crime drama In Cold Blood (1967) & the offbeat psycho thriller The Honeymoon Killers (1969).

I was tempted to do a double feature tribute to the two masterful, despicably loathsome characters brought to life by Robert Mitchum. First his superb manifestation of the crazed preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton’s expressionist masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). And then as the animalistic psychotic Max Cady in director J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962).

I might not wait until The Great Villain Blogathon 2018, and just do a special feature “Robert Mitchum’s Alpha Madmen” because he & these two films are just too good not to write about before next go around! And I’m simply mad about Robert Mitchum, not to worry, not mad in the same way as Angel Face’s Diane Tremayne!

The Great Villain Blogathon is perhaps one of my favorite blogathons because the possibilities are devilishly deliciously endless. My mind began to wander around all the delightfully deadly possibility of dastardly dames…

Beautiful Anti-Heroines with a psychological underpinning as in THE DARK MIRROR 1946 starring Olivia de Havilland playing twin sisters one bad, one good, de Havilland also embodies that certain dangerous allure in MY COUSIN RACHEL 1952.

THE STRANGE WOMAN 1946 features a very cunning and mesmerizing Hedy Lamarr, and then there’s always Anne Baxter who portrays a deeply disturbed woman in GUEST IN THE HOUSE 1944. All would be excellent choices for this bad ass… blogathon! BUT…!

This year, I find myself drawn to two intoxicatingly beautiful antagonists who’s veneer of elegance & delicate exquisiteness is tenuously covering their obsessive shattered psyches. Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney both manage to create an icy austerity and a menacing malignancy within the immediate allure of their physical beauty and wiles. 

Also significant in both these films, the characters of Diane Tremayne and Ellen Berent flip the male gaze and conquer it for themselves, being the ones ‘to look’.

In both these films the two deadly women are father-fixated! Both are pathologically jealous. And both women will not go “easy” Diane won’t put the car in gear “Easy!” and Ellen will not leave Dick alone and go away “easy.” These two killer psycho-noir ladies are a great pairing of deadly damsels!

DEFINITION : beauty |ˈbyo͞odē|

noun (pl. beauties)

1 a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: I was struck by her beauty | an area of outstanding natural beauty.

DEFINITION : CRIMINALLY INSANE

criminally |ˈkrimən(ə)lē|

adverb

1 in a manner that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law:

psychosis |sīˈkōsəs|

noun (pl. psychoses |-ˌsēz| )

a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

DEFINITION: OBSESSION

obsession |əbˈseSHən|

noun

the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.

  • an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind:

DEFINITION: FREUDIAN

Freudian |ˈfroidēən| Psychology

adjective

relating to or influenced by Sigmund Freud and his methods of psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the importance of sexuality in human behavior.

DEFINITION:PATHOLOGICALLY JEALOUS

pathological |ˌpaTHəˈläjək(ə)l| (also pathologic)

adjective/noun

the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.—• mental, social, or linguistic abnormality or malfunction—compulsive; obsessive

jealous |ˈjeləs|

adjective

*feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages:

*feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship:•

*fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions:

• (of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

From Mary Ann Doane’s book “The femme fatale is the figure of a certain discursive unease, a potential epistemological trauma. For her most striking characteristic, perhaps, is the fact that she never really is what she seems to be. She harbors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable or manageable. In thus transforming the threat of the woman into a secret, something which must be aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered … Her appearance marks the confluence of modernity, urbanization, Freudian psychoanalysis…The femme fatale is a clear indication of the extent of the fears and anxieties prompted by shifts in the understanding of sexual difference in the late nineteenth century… “

Doane goes on to say that it’s no wonder cinema was a great place for the femme fatale of 1940s noir with the femme fatale representing a sign of deviant strength. That could be said of both of highlighted q!

ANGEL FACE (1952)


She loved one man … enough to KILL to get him!

Directed by Otto Preminger written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Milland, Chester Erskine and an uncredited Ben Hecht.

Jean Simmons stars as the antagonist Diane Tremayne Jessup, Robert Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, Mona Freeman as nice girl Mary Wilton, Herbert Marshall as Diane’s beloved father, Mr. Charles Tremayne, Barbara O’Neil as stepmother Mrs. Catherine Tremayne, Leon Ames as attorney Fred Barrett, and Kenneth Tobey as nice guy Bill Compton, who is also Franks ambulance jockey partner. Cinematography by Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs 1960, Gypsy 1962, My Fair Lady 1964) and haunting score by great composer  Dimitri Tiomkin.

Angel Face is a bit of a reserved psycho-drama/noir directed by Otto Preminger who also produced. Quite striking in it’s few brutal moments scattered throughout as the murders play out at the hands of the extremely poised Jean Simmons, (So Long at the Fair 1950, The Big Country 1958, Spartacus 1960) which is what gives the film it’s nasty ironic burn in the end.

Jean Simmons was absolutely mesmerizing as Charlotte Bronn, a tormented woman who suffers a nervous breakdown, who leaves the institution and tries to make sense of her life with her austere husband Dan O’Herlihy, sister Rhonda Fleming, and sympathetic Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in director Mervyn Leroy’s Home Before Dark 1958.

In Angel Face, Simmons plays it almost perfectly chilling with her refined beauty that displays no affect, a few obvious inner demons behind those dreamy eyes, not so much bubbling passion underneath as there is bursts of fervency out of necessity. She stunningly floats through the scenes with ice water in her veins, determined to possess, first her father (Herbert Marshall) and then Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum).

As an actor Robert Mitchum possesses an enormous range, and many layers to his film & real life persona– although he always exudes that smooth yet brawny exterior, he can either play it self-possessed, a coolly determined hero or visceral anti-hero and at times he’s been quite effective as a sicko. In Angel Face, Mitchum while still the usual rugged beast and cocksure fella, this time he is foolish and unsympathetically led by his pants, right into our anti-heroine’s trap…

Frank should have stayed with nice nurse Mary, a nice fella for a girl.

Herbert Marshall as Charles Tremayne tries to explain to the doctor and the ambulance drivers what might have happened when the gas valve was left on in his wife’s bedroom.

Robert Mitchum plays former race car driver Frank Jessup, and ambulance jockey who becomes drawn into Diane Tremayne’s (Jean Simmons) psychotically woven web of obsessive love. Frank and Bill are called to the wealthy Tremayne family’s hilltop mansion, when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) is almost asphyxiated when the gas valve on her bedroom fireplace is stuck on. In reality Diane’s attempt to gas her stepmother fails. It seems that Diane is insanely jealous of the woman who took her dear doting father Charles’ (Herbert Marshall) attentions away.

Catherine Tremayne insists that someone has tried to kill her, and that the gas inhalation was not a suicide attempt. Catherine Tremayne is looked after by the doctor, given a sedative and tucked into bed. Frank wanders down the great staircase, lured by haunting piano playing.

Frank wanders into the parlor when he hears the refined and innocent doe eye looking Diane playing a classical melody on the grand piano. He is immediately struck by the beautifully delicate young woman. As soon as Diane sees Frank who tells her that her stepmother is okay, she becomes hysterical. He tries to calm her down in his gruff manner, “Look take it easy I told ya she’s gonna be fine.” Diane continues to sob, “Leave me alone.” He grabs her arm forcefully and yells at her to stop it, but Diane acts as if she is inconsolable, while Frank is getting more frustrated with her. So, the big guys slaps her, slaps her hard. Some sort of awareness washes over her face, in fact she might have rather liked getting smacked in the face and so, she slaps him back, just as hard. Frank laughs, “Now look, the manual says that’s supposed to stop hysterics, it doesn’t say a word about getting slapped back.” “I’m sorry”, “That’s alright forget it. I’ve been slapped by dames before.”

We can see that there is something definitely off about this strange young woman and it should have raised the hair on the back of his neck but Frank is a bit of a dog you see.

Frank and Bill drive back to the hospital where they are set to get off from work. Frank says goodnight to Bill and walks over to the cafe, because Mary is waiting on his call. Bill tells Frank he’s a lucky guy, and he agrees- “You know it!”

What Frank doesn’t realize is that Diane has jumped into her little sportscar and has followed the men in the ambulance all the way back to the hospital. She watches as Frank enters the cafe. Harry the cafe owner says, “Well if it ain’t the dead body jockey” “Sure Harry that’s why I come here it looks like the morgue.”

Frank puts a coin in the phone and begins to call Mary but he gets a busy signal. He turns around and voilà Diane is standing there. She floats out an innocent sounding,“Hello.” Frank pleasantly surprised says “Well hello, you do get around fast don’t ya.” Diane answers, “I parked my broomstick outside” Frank-“Beer Harry… what do witches drink?”

Now… This is why Frank is a dog, it doesn’t trouble him that this young woman has followed him to work. He was supposed to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary who is a nurse at the hospital and a wonderful person.

Naturally one busy signal and Frank’s attention span is switched to this young stalker whom he finds intriguing. He finally gets Mary on the phone and tells her that he’s too tired to get together and goes off into the night to dine and dance with Diane. He is now ensnared in her web.

Frank-“I’ll see you tomorrow” Mary-“Tomorrow… was it a rough call?” Frank staring at Diane- “Yeah, rough.”

Diane asks Mary to lunch… she’s got a plan you see

What makes Diane even more conniving is that the next day she meets Mary for lunch and tells her about her evening with her boyfriend. She puts it under the pretense of helping the couple out with Franks plans on owning his own sports car repair ship, Diane having the means to offer financial support. But the seed is planted and Mary gets the heavy hint dropped that Frank is a dog and feels betrayed by Frank’s lie about being too tired. Mary is no dope and she let’s Diane know that she won’t be a fool. She tells Diane that she would have rather not known about their evening together and knows that Diane has brought her to lunch to try and shake her faith in Frank and to “find out how stupid” she was. Mary isn’t the typical good girl in noir—she’s more streetwise than that and a bit jaded by the ways of the world. She’s the good girl, but not a dumb girl.

That night Frank is about to go out on a date with Mary and he continues to lie about the previous evening “I was so beat last night I hit the sack as soon as I got in” Mary tells him “That, I can believe.”

Diane walks into the diner and tells Frank that she met with Mary for lunch.

Diane-“Go ahead hit me.” Frank-“First I’ll buy you dinner then I’ll hit ya.” Diane -“When I tell you what I did you probably won’t want to see me again, ever.” Frank-“sounds pretty grim.” Diane-“I had lunch with Mary I told her about last night… oh not everything just that we went out together.” Frank gripes-“Well why did you say that, I told her that…” Diane-“I just told her that I wanted to help you get the garage.” Frank-“Oh yeah you’re a big help.”

Later that evening while dropping subtle barbs at each other about the price of Diane’s spending, she lays the groundwork for getting Catherine to hire Frank as her new chauffeur.

Diane to Catherine complaining about her expense account-“Don’t you know it’s the simple things that cost the most!”

Diane tells Catherine that she could really use a chauffeur…

Now that Frank and Mary’s relationship is strained Diane moves in for the kill, she initiates a passionate kiss, she tempts him with the idea of a race coming up, tempting him with “pebble beach” and that she will loan her car to him, also luring him with the security of a better paying job.

He decides to take a job with the Tremayne’s as her stepmother Catherine’s chauffeur, though he tells Diane he’s just “not the type” even moving into an apartment over the garage. Diane tells Frank about her father, how he is a widowed writer, who has been wasting his talent, marrying into money for it’s comfort with the rich Catherine whom Diane despises for the way she treats him.

Part of Diane’s diabolical plot to draw Frank into her web, she pretends to be nice to Catherine asking her to invest in Frank’s desire to open up his own garage that caters to sports cars.

This is also a way for Diane to ingratiate herself into Franks life by appealing to his love of fast cars, as an extension of her own dangerous mind, she drives a sports car that Frank seems to be dazzled by and covets as he was once a race car driver. This is just an example of one of Diane’s manipulative powers as she seduces Frank with the illusion that he will be in control. Race cars are vehicles that represent freedom and freedom of movement as they are capable high speeds and risk taking. Both Diane and Frank seem to want to move at their own speed and of their own volition with no one interfering. In that way they are suited. Frank wants to do his own thing, opening up his own garage and Diane is looking for someone new to possess and control since her father is now a little more out of her reach.

But this is where the bait, or point of attraction leads Frank down a dangerous spiraling road led completely by Diane’s calculating will— where he will ultimately and literally crash and burn.

And so Frank meets with his employer who is receptive to him. Catherine actually thinks he’s a very nice young man and calls over to her lawyer to look over the papers, feeling fine about lending a great deal of money for him to open up his own garage, though she must wait for her attorney to look over the financial details of the transaction. Frank believes the deal is going to happen, until Diane sabotages the whole thing by insinuating herself using deception once again, pretending to show Frank a crumpled paper from the waste pail with the figures for the investment, that her stepmother supposedly trashed. Frank seems surprised that Catherine decided not to go ahead with it, as she appeared keen on the idea.

“Oh Frank I’m so sorry.” Frank-“Don’t take it so hard. You had a nice idea it just didn’t work that’s all.” Diane-“I’m so sorry for you.” Frank-“She changed her mind forget it, we’ll make a big night of it.” Diane– “Not tonight.” Frank slightly annoyed-“Now why?” Diane warns him, “It would be safer not too. We have to be careful for a few days. More than ever now.” Frank-“What do we have to be careful of now?” Diane-“Well if she finds out she’ll dismiss you and I couldn’t stand to lose you now…” Frank-“So she fires me and I get another job. Maybe it’s better that way. At least we won’t have to play around like this. Hiding like kids.” Diane-“You don’t know her Frank. She’d lock me in.” Frank laughs-“How could she lock you in?” Diane-“She could do anything to me because of my father. If I try to fight her, she makes him pay for it, she knows I can’t stand that, please try to understand.”

Of course Diane has constructed this lie as Catherine was very interested in going through with the deal. She wants to poison Frank’s mind against Catherine, and Frank doesn’t go straight to Catherine and merely ask if this is true, he just takes Diane’s word for it.

Once he is working for the Tremayne’s, and the prospect of his garage will not materialize-Frank gets antsy.

While Diane plays chess with dear old daddy, Frank gets bored playing chauffeur above the garage and tries to call Mary but he can’t reach her. Diane says goodnight to father laying out his milk, biscuits and cigarettes by his bedside, like the loving daughter, he can’t do without.

While Diane sits at the piano and plays her lamenting melody, in her eyes she appears like a black widow knowing that she has a juicy fly trapped above the garage, planning her next strategy which comes in the middle of the night.

She comes to Franks room crying and frightened claiming that Catherine had been in her bedroom looking down at her. Diane says with her most delicate voice-“It was so strange I wanted to speak but I couldn’t.” Diane tells Frank that Catherine had closed the window and put the gas on in her room, that she heard that awful hissing sound. She didn’t dare leave the room. Frank wants to tell her father and the police, but Diane quickly gathers her composure, “No Frank we mustn’t do that.” 

Diane’s pretense of paranoia about Catherine’s trying to kill her emerges more clearly for Frank who is now taking notice of it.

An exercise in frustration, Frank begins to realize that he is in love with a lovely yet quite homicidal head case! but he fails to untangle himself from this deadly beauty.

Frank  [of Diane’s supposed ‘evil’ stepmother] … “If she’s tryin’ to kill you, why did she turn on the gas in her own room first?”

Diane  “To make it look as though somebody else were guilty…”

Frank  “Is that what you did?”

Diane  “Frank, are you accusing me?”

Frank  “I’m not accusing anybody. But if I were a cop, and not a very bright cop at that, I’d say that your story was as phony as a three dollar bill.”

Diane “How can you say that to me?”

Frank  “Oh, you mean after all we’ve been to each other?… Diane, look. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours – I don’t *want* to. But I learned one thing very early. Never be the innocent bystander – that’s the guy that always gets hurt. If you want to play with matches, that’s your business. But not in gas-filled rooms – that’s not only dangerous, it’s stupid.”

Diane tells him that she’s very tired. He says “Yeah, that I can believe.” When she tries to kiss him, he pulls away from her.

Meantime Frank visits with Mary, who is on her way out to meet up with Bill for a date. She is surprisingly nice to Frank which is more than he deserves. She tells him Bill was sure he’d show up for last night’s bowling tournament he tells her –“I’ve been busy.”

Frank asks how Bill did in the tournament, she tells him “wonderful.” Frank answers, “He’s been making out alright with you too huh.” 

Mary says, “Bill was very sweet to me after you walked out.”

Frank-“I took a job that pays better than being a lousy ambulance driver, is that a crime?” Mary- “Is taking the bosses daughter to the Mocalmba (club) part of the job?” Frank-“They got a good band there, remind me to take you there sometime.” 

You just can’t blame Mary for trying to move on, Bill is a much more dependable and a very likable guy who has worshiped Mary from the beginning. She asks about Frank’s new life, and he tells her that he’s thinking of quitting.

He tells her, “I’ve been thinking about quitting, it’s a weird outfit, not for me.”

Frank asks-“What’s the score Mary, has Bill taken over or do I still rate?”

Mary-“That’s a hard question to answer and I don’t think a fair one to ask” Frank-“A very simple question, yes or no, Bill or me? Can’t you make up your mind?” Mary tells him, “Yes, but I want to be sure you can make up yours. Can’t we let it go at that for a while” Frank-“Oh, I’m on probation, okay, how bout tonight, we got a date?” Mary laughs- “Why not” Frank says, “You know something you’re a pretty nice guy… for a girl.”

The next day Frank is going to leave, but Diane has packed her bags, and stumbles onto Frank packing his own bags. She asks him where he is going. He tells her that he’s quitting, when she asks why, he tells her, “well maybe it’s the altitude. Living up here makes my heart pound.”

Of course Diane collapses onto the couch and begins to weep. Frank tells her, “Now let’s face it I never should have taken this job. You shouldn’t have asked me… you know I’m right. You have your world I have mine. You got beautiful clothes a big house, someday you’ll come into a lot of money. I got a pair of big hands and not much else.”

“But all I want is you. I can’t let you go now… I won’t.”

He tells Diane that he wants to quit his job and she becomes upset as her plaything and the object of her second fixation is now slipping away from her. Frank doesn’t want to be involved with the whole package anymore. “It’s no good I tell you, I’m not getting involved.” She asks “Involved with what?”

“How stupid do you think  I am –You hate that women Someday somehow you’re gonna hate her enough to kill her. It’s been in the back of your mind all along.”

Diane says coldly-“So she’s fooled you too! Just like she has everyone else.”

Diane reminds Frank about her father’s book. That one day she went into his desk to hide a present for him, just “something between him and me…”

And that she found inside the drawer where he was supposed to keep his manuscript, there was nothing but a stack of blank paper. He hasn’t written a line since he married Catherine. At first Frank just blows this off, “So he got tired. Writer marries a rich widow what’d ya expect him to write… checks.”  This touches on a nerve, “Don’t joke about my father!” She tells Frank that Catherine has “humiliated and destroyed him.”

Frank tells her that there’s no law that says she has to stay, she could move out and find work the way other girls must do. She tells Frank that she would leave if it weren’t for her father. “That’s where I came in. I guess that’s where I leave.”

“Frank please will you tell me one thing. Do you love me at all? I must know…”

“I suppose it’s a kind of love. But with a girl like you how can a man be sure.” Diane quietly asks, “Will you take me with you?” 

Frank-“You had it all figured out didn’t ya. You mean you’d really leave your father and everything here.” Diane-“If I have to, to keep you.” Frank-“I could be wrong about you.”

Diane begins to tell Frank how she can sell her jewels and the fancy car and he can get a small garage at first. He wants her to be sure what she is getting herself into. She tells him that she’s sure. They hear Catherine’s car pull around. He tells her to think it over for a few days. Her kisses and sympathetic story about her poor father has worked perfectly on Frank. And she makes sure that he promises that he won’t leave until then. Diane’s maneuvering has worked.

Diane leaves Franks room, and walks passed Catherine’s car. Tiomkin’s score plays fervently, feverishly as she looks down the steep cliff and seems thoughtful about the car that is framed behind her. Finding an empty package of cigarettes stuck in the hedge, she holds it out and watches it as it drops down the deep cliff side. Shades of darker things soon to follow.

Diane is so sinister she even loans Catherine a pair of her new driving gloves, just for the irony of it all. Sometimes she can be so sweet.

Catherine needs to go to her bridge game looking for Frank to drive her, Diane makes the excuse that he needed to go to Santa Barbara, having loaned her sports car to him. Diane offers to drive her instead, knowing all too well that she’ll refuse. And of course Catherine does in fact decide to drive herself to her bridge game. At the last minute, Charles decides to tag along for a ride to Beverly Hills.

Diane languidly floats as if in a psychotic trance and sits at her piano performing the same melody she played the night she failed to asphyxiate Catherine. We can hear Diane playing her melancholy ‘death song’ on the grand piano as her stepmother and father proceed to drive. But…

Diane has figured out how to tamper with the gear shift. She’s been watching Frank tinker with the mansion’s cars, and learns how to reconfigure the brakes and the shift.

Catherine starts up the car, put the gear into drive AND the car shoots backwards rather than forwards –it has been rigged to go into reverse, as her stepmother and father are propelled over the steep cliff’s edge.

Of course the convertible car goes careening over the jagged cliff, rolling over and over and smashing against the rocks, the crash dummies used are quite effective as they (Catherine and Diane’s father) seem to become crushed under the twisted fiery metal…

here’s a nifty gif to illustrate

It is one horrific scene indeed. A scene that truly rattles me!

Diane is successful at the second attempt on her stepmother’s (Barbara O’Neil Stella Dallas 1937, Gone with the Wind 1939, All this, And Heaven Too 1940, Secret Beyond the Door 1947, Whirlpool 1950) life. The problem with Diane’s almost ingenious perfect murder unbeknownst to her is that dear daddy wasn’t supposed to be a passenger in the car so he also dies in the fiery crash, a casualty in the wreckage of Diane’s unbridled psychotic scheme of stepmother machine meddling.

The police think there is something strange about the accident and Frank is charged with murder after Diane’s packed suitcase is found in his room.

The a cop on the case knows Frank from driving the ambulance, and he brings Frank in for questioning. Detective Lt. Ed Brady asks how Frank came to work for the Tremaynes, and Frank tells him that he sort of just fell into it, after they had gotten the call about Catherine’s near asphyxiation. Ed tells him he knows. He’s got the report right there on his desk, Detective Lt. Ed Brady (Larry J. Blake)-“probably accidental, sure makes you wonder, don’t it.”  Frank asks,“What da ya mean?” Ed “She claims somebody tried to murder her” Frank laughs it off-“She was hysterical, why would anyone try to murder her?” Ed-“Are you kiddin’ a woman with her kind of money. Oh by the way Frank, what sort of a girl is this step daughter er… Diane?” Frank tells him, “Very nice girl, very pretty girl.” Ed-“Any boyfriends?” Frank-“None that I ever saw. She and her father were very close.” he puffs on his cigarette some more. Ed mentions “But didn’t get a long with her stepmother eh” Frank- “I didn’t say that.” Ed-“Okay okay, when was the last time you drove the Tremayne car?”

Ed shows him the packed suitcase and then tells Frank he should get himself a lawyer.

Attorney Fred Barrett (Leon Ames), Diane’s lawyer comes to see her in the prison hospital ward.

“She idolized the man Fred it’s no wonder her nerves are cracked!”

Diane suffers a breakdown as she had only wanted to kill her stepmother, she never intended on killing her beloved father when she tinkered with the car. It looks like Frank is involved because he was the last known person to handle the car. He was known to have worked on the cars at the Tremaynes.

The Tremayne family lawyer hires one of L.A’s best defense attorneys, Fred Barrett a master at playing on a jury’s emotions.

Barrett tries to tell her that it won’t serve either she nor Frank to shoulder the blame because the jury would believe them both guilt. In a moment of honesty she tries to save Frank’s neck. Seeming less like a crazy girl and in more control of her powers now in the aftermath of what she has done, inadvertently killing her father, she wants to take responsibility for the murders herself, not wanting anyone to defend her and that she acted alone.

Diane confesses to the crime-“But I’m telling the truth.”

“The truth is what the jury decides…not you, not me, not Frank.”

At first Frank doesn’t want to go along with Barrett’s plan.

Barrett-“To be perfectly blunt Mr. Jessup I’m not particular invested in saving your neck. The concern is with my client Diane Tremayne” Frank-“Yeah that’s what I figured” Barrett tells him, “But the point is you have a much better chance together than separately. And the evidence actually points much more to you than it does to her. The fact that an automobile was involved” Frank interrupts, “If she thinks she can get away with that she’s lost her mind.”

Frank and Diane are married at the hospital…

The ladies at the prison bake the bride and groom a wedding cake-“Kids we sure hope you beat the rap!”

Barrett concocts a scheme to have Frank and Diane married in the hospital jail ward where Diane is spending her time while first catatonic, she is then convalescing after the break down. Diane’s legal team insists that she marry Frank so that it would seem like the couple were just innocent young people who intended matrimony and not having a sordid affair. They want Diane to keep her honest revelations to herself. A morally distasteful strategy that might guarantee a good outcome for them at the trial.

This scheme tries to offset any more scandal for the headlines framing it as two innocent people in love. And that explains them leaving the Tremayne house that day with plans to elope.

Another bad choice, Frank goes along with it, hoping to save his own skin not wanting to be convicted of the murders himself. He allows yet again an outside influence to manipulate his life. The idea of Frank and Diane getting married seems to push Diane further into the delusion that they will remain married and that she will have a future with Frank.

But Frank now wants nothing to do with the obsessive murderous Diane. D.A. Judson (Jim Backus) brings in the car’s mangled motor and drive shaft to demonstrate his theory how the transmission was jimmied to stay in reverse. The defense attorney Barrett manages to create a measure of reasonable doubt, supplied by with his own specialists who does create doubt in the minds of the jury and the trial ends with an acquittal. And the couple is now free to go. Frank wants a divorce.

Returning to the mansion Frank tells Diane he’ll go visit Mary to see if she’ll take him back. If she won’t he’ll leave for Mexico. Diane is devastated and in desperation makes him an offer. She’ll loan him her jaguar to go see Mary. If Mary takes him back, he can keep the car. If not he’ll bring the car back.

Here we are not sure whether Diane’s psychosis has broken up a little like a dark cloud getting clearer, as she appears more genuine at this point or is she is still manipulating Frank?

She shares a little history about her childhood and where her fixations might be coming from. She tells him that she was only ten years old when her mother was caught in an air raid in England, after which her father “became everything” to her. But once he married Catherine, Diane says she used to fantasize about what she and her father would do if her stepmother were dead.

She tells Frank that now she realizes that Catherine never meant any harm and she wants him to believe her when she says that she would give her life to bring them back. This is why she tells Frank that he cannot leave her because she wouldn’t know what to do without him. Now appearing just desperately lonely than viciously psychotic. But Frank isn’t ready to stay married to her, not even try at staying close, though he doesn’t hate her, he is “getting out all the same.”

After Frank leaves she closes up the house, dismisses the servants and wanders around the estate alone, before she goes to Frank’s room where she spends the night curled up in the armchair wrapped in his jacket.

Diane believes that she’ll never see him again. She goes to Barrett’s office, wanting to confess, and Barrett reluctantly agrees to take her statement. Diane details how she unwittingly got Frank to show her while giving the car a tune up how to rig the car to go in reverse. But he tells her she can’t be tried again due to double jeopardy. Her admission shows that she might not be totally delusional, just a regretful psychotic.

When Diane returns to the lonely mansion, Dimitri Tiomkin’s dark score swells dramatically around Diane as she appears to drift bereft with grief through the empty halls and rooms. But Diane’s hopes are sparked when Frank returns, Mary has by right rejected him, preferring the kind and loyal ex-partner Bill and Frank decides to leave for Mexico.

Diane pleads with him to let her go along. He says no way. Even though he’s called a cab, he decides to let her drive him to the bus station. They get in the jaguar, and Diane brings champagne and two glasses.

It might not be necessarily clear when the idea came to Diane, If it was the final realization that she’d be driving him to the station never to see him again. Maybe she thinks she can change his mind over that glass of champagne. But something clicks in her brain when Frank criticizes the way she puts the car in gear, as he exclaims. “Easy” that seems to spark her reaction…

He pours the champagne as she starts the engine. Then looking at him, she floors the car in reverse as the two go frighteningly backwards over that scary steep cliff…

And rockets them down the same cliff that killed her father and stepmother, the car smashing against the rocks mangled into the same kind of twisted metal sculpture.

Irony-a few minutes later the cab arrives…. Frank you idiot.

The scene is given it’s moxie by cinematographer Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire  1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957)

Angel Face dramatically embraces the darker implications of noir.

I admit, I’d have a hard time saying no to Jean Simmons too… but Franks stupidity and Mitchum’s ability to play a tough guy (who smokes a cigarette sexier than any man I can think of) a guy just floating where the wind blows his pants is aptly described in Silver and Ursini’s book—FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS– on Otto Preminger

“One of the big achievement of Preminger his writers his cast and composer Tiomkin is to create a tone of amour fou in Angel Face that is realistic, poignant, delirious and suspenseful in equal doses. Frank is not the smartest guy, but he’s not a dummy, either. His lackadaisical attitude about life is embodied in Mitchum’s languid body language. Slow on the uptake about how dangerous Diane is, his problem is one of the noir anti-hero most common:thinking with his balls and not his brains. If he hadn’t given Diane a second chance, if Mary had taken him back;and if he’d realized Diane was willing to sacrifice her own life to be with him. A lot of ifs. Frank is always a half-beat behind trying to get in rhythm and he pays for it dearly. Preminger actually generates some sympathy for Diane when she tries to make up for the murders by confessing, only to realize the state will never punish her. Barrett’s assertion she may end up institutionalized if she presses the issue is more unpalatable to her than the gas chamber. When she comes home before seeing Frank for the final time, the romantic delirium builds to fever pitch, culminating in a bittersweet shot of her curled up in the shadows in Frank’s room. Frank’s coat wrapped around her. It is one of the most moving sequences… the character is completely self-aware of her own psychosis. Angel Face is Preminger’s finest noir.”

Continue reading “Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)”

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
CapturFiles_3 copy
Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

weird-noir
There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
mimi3
Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.

“I was born a character actor. I was never really a leading man type.” –Burgess Meredith

Burgess Meredith
Oliver Burgess Meredith

WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2014

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It’s here again! The most fabulous blogathon honoring those unsung stars that add that certain singular glimmer to either the cinematic sphere or the small screen sky–The character actors we’ve grown to love and follow adoringly. Thanks so much to Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club  for hosting such a marvelous tribute once again!

This post’s title comes from the opening narrative for Rod Serling’s favorite Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.”  ‘Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers’ From Season 1 episode 8 which aired on November 20th 1959.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE “TIME ENOUGH AT LAST”

Directed by John Brahm, “Time Enough At Last” tells the story of a little bespectacled bibliophile bank teller named Henry Bemis ,a bookworm, a slave to the iron fisted hand of time and all it’s dreary inescapable obligatory scars and yearnings.

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Browbeaten by his wife, boss and even the public at large who see him as an outcast because of his ravenous appetite to read books! Henry can’t even sneak away to read a newspaper during work hours. He’s forced to resort to studying the labels on condiment bottles. She won’t even let him read the ketchup. His harpy of a wife Helen ( Jacqueline deWit) even blackens in the lines of his books at home, calling it “doggerel“– One day as fate would have it, he steals away to the basement vault of the bank to catch up on his beloved preoccupation, when –as many Twilight Zone episodes had been infused with a dose of Rod Serling’s nihilism (as much as there is his hopeful message), the feared 50’s bomb annihilates our vision of the world that was swarming just a few moments before. Suddenly poor Henry seems to be the last man on earth. But wait… perhaps not poor Henry.

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As he stumbles through the debris and carefully placed set pieces– the remnants of man’s destructive force, Henry comes upon the city’s public library filled with BOOKS!!! Glorious books…

While he must struggle against the approaching loneliness of the bleak future ahead, he begins to see the possibility of a new world where he could dream, and wander through so many scrawled worlds. Already an outsider he could finally live a life free to be as his boss rebuked him, a “reader.’

Henry starts to amass various piles of selected readings. There was time now. Time enough at last to read every word on the written page without interruption, interference or judgement.

Yet…fate once again waves her fickle finger via The Twilight Zone and leaves bewildered Henry without his much needed glasses, now they have fallen on the great stone steps, crushed by Henry’s own feet. As with every role Meredith brings to life the character of Henry Bemis with so much mirth and pathos.

He’s always just a bit peculiar, idiosyncratic, eccentric, lyrical, salty, sometimes irascible, but always captivating and distinctive, His voice, his persona, his look, his style… Burgess Meredith could always play the Henry Bemises of the world and grab our hearts because he has that rare quality of being so damn genuine.

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Let’s face it even when the prolific Burgess Meredith is playing a cackling penguin– nemesis to the caped crusader Batman or the devil himself (alias the dapper and eccentric Charles Chazen with Mortimer the canary and his black and white cat Jezebel in tow) in The Sentinel 1977 based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed by Michael Winner–he’s lovable!

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He always manages to just light me up. Ebullient, mischievous  and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. (I smile even at the simplest nostalgic memory like his work on television commercials , as a kid growing up in the 60s and early 70s I fondly remember his voice for Skippy Peanut Butter. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner. Here’s a clip from a precious vintage commercial showcasing Meredith’s delightfully fleecy voice.

And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone and Torture Garden! While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s gem as the spiffy Charles Chazin.

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Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo in Torture Garden 1967

And while I resist even the notion of redoing Ira Levin/William Castle and Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby if, and I’m only saying if… I could envision anyone else playing along side Ruth Gordon as the quirky and roguish Roman Castevet it could only be Burgess Meredith who could pull that off!

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Also being a HUGE fan of Peter Falk’s inimitable Columbo– I ask why why WHY?! was Burgess Meredith never cast as a sympathetic murderer for that relentless and lovable detective in the rumpled rain coat to pursue! Could you imagine the chemistry between these two marvelous actors!

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Burgess Meredith all of 5′ 5″ tall was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1907. His father was a doctor, his mother a Methodist revivalist. We lost him in 1997 at the age of 89. That’s when he took his “dirt nap…” the line and that memorable scene from Grumpier Old Men 1993 that still makes me burst out laughing from the outlandish joy of it all!… because as Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) tells John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) about how he’s managed to live so long eating bacon, smoking and drinking his dinner–what’s the point…? “I just like that story!”

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Leading man material… Street of Chance 1942

Burgess Meredith said himself, that he wasn’t born to be a leading man, yet somehow he always managed to create a magnetic draw toward any performance of his. As if where ever his presence in the story was, it had the same effect as looking in a side view mirror of the car “Objects are closer than they appear”–What I mean by that is how I relate his contribution becoming larger than the part might have been, had it been a different actor. Like the illusion of the mirrored reflection , he always grew larger in significance within the story–because his charisma can’t help but consume the space.

He took over the landscape and planted himself there like a little metaphysical essence, animating the narrative to a higher level of reality.

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Meredith started out working with the wonderful Eva Le Gallienne joining her stage company in New York City in 1933. His first film role was that of Mio Romagna in playwright Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset 1936 where Meredith plays the son of an immigrant wrongfully executed for a crime he did not commit. He also joined the ranks of those in Hollywood who were named as “unfriendly witnesses’ by the House Un-American Activities Committee finding no work, being blacklisted in the 1950s.  

During the 1960s Meredith found his way back in various television roles that gave us all a chance to see and hear his incredible spectrum of performances. One of my personal favorites, dramatically potent and vigorously absorbing was his portrayal of Duncan Kleist in  Naked City television series episode directed by Walter Grauman (Lady in A Cage 1964Hold For Gloria Christmas

The groundbreaking crime and human interest series NAKED CITY– cast Meredith as a 60s beat poet & derelict Dunan Kleist who is literally dying to leave the legacy of his words to a kindred spirit.

A powerful performance told through flashback sequences that recollect his murder as he storms through the gritty streets and alley ways of New York City  a volatile alcoholic Greenwich Village poet trying to get back his precious manuscript of poems that were stolen as he bartered them away bit by bit for booze -he has bequeathed his work to the anonymous Gloria Christmas. The chemistry between Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart who plays his estranged wife is magnificent exuding years of anguish and disappointment. Heckart is another character actor who deserves a spotlight.

 

BURNT OFFERINGS 1976Dan Curtis’ priceless treasure of creepy camp featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed and once again uniting the incredible Eileen Heckart with our beloved Burgess Meredith as the ominous Roz and Arnold Allardyce.

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Roz & Arnold… charming… creepy!

Another memorable role for me, is his spirited performance as Charles Chazin alias The Devil in one of my all time favorite horror classics The Sentinel. “Friendships often blossom into bliss.” – Charles Chazin. Ooh that line still gives me chills…

Many people will probably love him for his iconic character study of a crusty cantankerous washed up boxing trainer named Mickey in the Rocky series of films. Or perhaps, for his colorful cackling or should I say quacking villain in the television series Batman -his iconic malefactor — The Penguin!

IMDb fact-His character, the Penguin, was so popular as a villain on the television series Batman (1966), the producers always had a Penguin script ready in case Meredith wanted to appear as a guest star.

Burgess Meredith will always remain one of the greatest, most versatile & prolific actors, character in fact… beloved and eternal…

BURGESS MEREDITH TELEVISION & FILMOGRAPHY ON IMBD HERE

BURGESS MEREDITH

 

“Like the seasons of the year, life changes frequently and drastically. You enjoy it or endure it as it comes and goes, as it ebbs and flows.”- Burgess Meredith

“I’ll just take amusement at being a paradox.”- Burgess Meredith

[on his childhood] “All my life, to this day, the memory of my childhood remains grim and incoherent. If I close my eyes and think back, I see little except violence and fear. In those early years, I somehow came to understand I would have to draw from within myself whatever emotional resources I needed to go wherever I was headed. As a result, for years, I became a boy who lived almost totally within himself.”- Burgess Meredith

 

Continue reading “Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.”

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1

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Doll-maker: “This doll had almost been loved to death. You know, love inflicts the most terrible injuries on my small patients.”

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965)

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Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) (British) is director/producer Otto Preminger’s psychological thriller, considered to be part of the noir cannon or Post-Noir yet embraces the suspense thriller sub-genre. A thriller about a little girl who may or may not exist! The film deals with the dread of losing yourself, not being believed, childhood nightmares which are rooted in the sense of lack of safety in the environment where they should be protected.

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Starring Carol Lynley (The Cardinal 1963, Shock Treatment 1964,The Shuttered Room 1967) as Ann Lake and Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, Black Christmas 1974) as brother Stephen Lake, the Americans who relocate to London and exude a mysteriously emotionless manner even when they act frenzied, enraged or frantically distressed.

The film also stars Laurence Olivier as Superintendent Newhouse, Martita Hunt as retired head schoolmistress Ada Ford, Anna Massey as the uptight Elvira Smollett, Clive Revill as Sergeant Andrews, playwright Noel Coward as Horatio Wilson, the lewd, drunken, seedy and lecherous Landlord who is creepy and inappropriate as he carries his little dog Samantha around with him everywhere. He’s also got a wicked whip collection… one which was once owned by the ‘master himself’ the Marquis de Sade.

Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Preminger and Noel Coward on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Noel Coward who plays the lascivious Horatio Wilson on the set of Bunny Lake Is Missing.

Finlay Currie plays the kindly old Doll Maker, Adrienne Corri  is the disagreeable Dorothy,and Lucie Mannheim plays the irascible German cook.

Preminger filmed Bunny Lake Is Missing in stunning black & white using a widescreen format on location in London, hiring Director of Photography and cameraman Denys Coop (The Third Man 1949, Saint Joan 1957, Lolita 1962 and Billy Lair 1963) and Production Designer Don Ashton.

The story is based on the mystery novel by Marryam Modell  using the pseudonym Evelyn Piper (who also wrote the novel, The Nanny 1965  brilliantly adapted to the screen starring Bette Davis as a very sympathetic yet disturbed nanny) With a screenplay by John and Penelope Mortimer, Preminger adapted Piper’s original novel and re oriented the story taking it out of New York and placing it in heart of London.

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Seth Holt directs my favorite- Bette Davis in The Nanny- 1965’s adaptation of Marryam Modell’s novel

The incredibly striking, simplistic and evocative score was composed by Paul Glass (Lady in a Cage 1964) and used not only in the opening titles designed effectively by the great Saul Bass but the theme is used frequently as a childlike refrain, poignant and moving. The British group The Zombies also appear in a television broadcast, featuring three of their songs, “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.”

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No one designs a title sequence like Saul Bass… each one evocative, primal… yet simplistic at it’s very core

Hope Bryce (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, Exodus 1960, Advise and Consent 1962) was responsible for the Costume design.

A standout performance is Martita Hunt, the wonderful British character actress who was in Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode as the batty aunt Celia Sommerville in The Last of The Summervilles. Here, she plays the school’s eccentric retired old headmistress Ada Ford who listens incessantly to recordings of little children who tell their nightmares and dreams recorded on her reel to reel tape machine.

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The fabulous Martita Hunt as the batty Celia Sommerville co-starring Phyllis Thaxter as the cunning cousin Ursula Sommerville in one of the great episodes of Boris Karloff’s anthology television series THRILLER.

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Columbia Pictures actually wanted Otto Preminger to cast Jane Fonda as Ann Lake, and Fonda was very anxious to play the role, but Preminger insisted on using Carol Lynley.

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Carol Lynley as Ann Lake

Much like the hype of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, audiences were not allowed to tell the film’s ending. The film’s poster promoted a tagline “No One Admitted While the Clock is Ticking” I will also choose not to reveal the film’s coda in this post, so as not to give away the culmination of the film’s secrets or it’s finale.

This was one of Preminger’s last films with a Noir milieu, since The Man With The Golden Arm 1955 starring Frank Sinatra.

Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm
Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

Within the film’s openness, and it’s various environments, it appears that several of the frames are cluttered with visual odds and ends and bits and pieces, the sequence with the unbroken view of dolls, Wilson’s African masks and whips all evidence of the film’s sense of Fetishism.

Bunny Lake is Missing has a visual openness and fluidity which gives the film a striking dimension. The sweeping camerawork is familiar from the noir days of Preminger’s epic Laura (1944), although here it breaks away more completely from the enclosed environs of the 40s noir film.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Premingers iconic noir Laura
Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Preminger’s iconic noir classic Laura (1944)

Denys Coop’s diligent camera seems to peek into corners, moving through doors and up and down those iconographic STAIRS becoming part of the film’s fretful and apprehensive rhythm. Coop uses peculiar camera angles and lights his subjects from below in order to distort the mood, and throw odd uncomfortable shadows on their faces.

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An odd angle as the camera catches Ann Lake coming up the iconographic noir stairs. The visual Images are often a little skewed in Bunny Lake
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While Ann talks with the quirky Ada Ford, her face is lit from underneath giving her an ethereal, fairy tale like glimmer

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING: THE SYNOPSIS

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A single American mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley relocates to London England to live with her journalist brother Stephen (Keir Dullea), Ann drops off her four year old daughter Felicia nicknamed ‘Bunny’ on the first day at her new nursery school “The Little People’s Garden.” When Ann returns to see how Bunny is getting on in school, she can not find a teacher or administrator present, except for a cranky German cook who is complaining about serving Junket (which is essentially gruel) played by Lucie Mannheim. Ann is forced to leave Bunny unsupervised in the building’s ‘first day’ room under the promise by the cranky cook that she will look after the child. Ann must rush to meet the movers who are awaiting her at the new apartment. When Ann returns in the afternoon to pick up her little girl, the cook has quit, and she becomes distressed when Bunny is no where to be found and the school’s employees Elvira Smollett (Anna Massey) and Dorothy (Adrienne Corri) who are left in charge fervently obstruct Ann’s attempts at locating Bunny even denying that the little girl was ever at the school in the first place. No one remembers having seen her. This creates a mood of distrust and paranoia.

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Ann desperately calls her brother Stephen for help. Ann and Stephen were raised without a father, and Ann never married the man who got her pregnant. She and Bunny have depended on Stephen to take care of them. Brother Stephen becomes enraged by the carelessness of the school’s staff, but Scotland Yard begins to investigate the matter. In walks police superintendent Newhouse acted thoughtfully by Laurence Olivier assisted by Sergeant Andrews played by Clive Revill. Newhouse begins searching through the Lake’s belongings and the details of their lives trying to uncover what seems to be a mystery as to whether the child ever existed at all. He discovers that Ann once had an imaginary childhood daughter named Bunny, but even more odd is that there seems to be no presence of Bunny’s belongings at the Lake’s residence.

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Little Bunny’s hair brush and comb set out on the bathroom shelf…

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Where are Bunny’s things???? A taste of female hysteria and maternal paranoia.
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Does the curious headmistress Ada Ford know more about Bunny’s disappearance than she’s telling or is she just one of the plot’s red herrings?
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Retired head mistress Ada Ford who has a fantastical grasp of the inner workings of a child’s nightmares. Inhabited perfectly by wonderful character actress Martita Hunt

There are several red herrings which are inserted into the plot to divert us away from the truth. One such red herring involves retired headmistress, the eccentric Ada Ford played by the marvelous Martita Hunt who seems to have an odd sensibility about children and an acute understanding of childhood motivations which is quickly picked up on by the plasticine yet cold-blooded Stephen Lake.Yet another odd character in the mix is the lecherous landlord Horatio Wilson an aging writer and radio actor played by Noel Coward who revels in his African Fertility Masks and let’s himself into the Lakes apartment at will, in a perpetual state of inebriation lurking about making lewd gestures and propositions to Ann. He also has a collection of whips, exhibiting signs of his sadomasochistic proclivities.

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Horatio Wilson (Noel Coward) is a peculiar sort… as he intrudes on Ann’s world

All these strange characters give Inspector Newhouse a lot to digest, as he tries to eliminate all the possible suspects while trying to find a trace of Bunny that proves she actually does exist, not discounting the idea that Ann Lake is a delusional hysterical woman.

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Ann and Stephen tell Inspector Newhouse that Bunny’s passport and all her belongings have also gone missing, assumed stolen during the mysterious burglary in the apartment. Another odd detail which doesn’t support Ann’s truly having raised this missing child, is that the school’s authorities claim that they never received a tuition check for a Bunny Lake.

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Ann shows Stephen the voucher for the Doll Hospital where Bunny’s doll is being repaired. Proof that she exists? Traces of an incestuous bond from the bathtub…

Ann finally remembers that she has a ticket for the Doll Hospital where she took Bunny’s doll. She remembers this during a scene where Stephen is taking a bath, and brother and sister are both just smoking and talking like a married couple. The film constantly hints at traces of a very incestuous relationship, creepily manifested in several scenes, Stephens physical contact with Ann when he tries to comfort her and one other such overt scene while Stephen is taking his bath…

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